The Temple at Nauvoo

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

 

Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional

October 15, 2002

 

 

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to stand next to the Prophet, many of the General Authorities, and thousands of faithful members of the Church at the dedication of the Nauvoo temple.

In the dedicatory prayer, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Bless this City of Nauvoo . . . [this] City of Joseph. . . . May this sacred house stand as a memorial to him who lived here and was buried here, Joseph Smith, the great prophet of this dispensation, and his brother, Hyrum, whom he loved."(1)

It is fitting that the temple at Nauvoo stand as a memorial to The Prophet Joseph Smith and to those who served with him at the dawn of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is fitting that we remember; that we never forget the grand and glorious events of those early days.

Today, I would like to pay tribute to the Prophet, the people, and the events of those early days of the Church. I wish to speak for a few moments of that glorious temple built to provide a spiritual haven for the Saints.

During a cold November in 1838, thousands of Missouri militia surrounded the Saints at Far West, Missouri. The governor of the State of Missouri had declared that, the Mormons "must be exterminated or driven from the state."(2) Frenzied by hatred, they drove hundreds of men, women, and children from their homes.

Heber C. Kimball was an eye-witness to this persecution. "They expected to see us cast down and sorrowful," he writes, "but I testify as an eye-witness that the brethren rejoiced and praised the Lord and kicked up their heels, and thanked God, taking joyfully the despoiling of their goods."(3)

One Missourian took pity on the suffering of the Saints and wrote a letter to the state legislature. It, "makes humanity shudder," he wrote, "and the cold chills run over any man, not entirely destitute of the feelings of humanity. These demons are now constantly strolling up and down Caldwell County . . . in any way and every way plundering the poor [Mormons] of all the means of subsistence . . . leaving them in a starving and naked condition."(4)

The prophet, along with several other key brethren in the Church were charged with various crimes. Many were killed or died as a result of the hardships they were made to bear. More had been robbed of their property and forced to flee into the cold of winter for their lives.

General John B. Clark, the man to whom the governor had entrusted to rid the state of the Mormons, had been told that it should be completely left to his discretion whether he killed all of them or not. In his own words, General Clark told the Saints at Far West, "You need not expect any mercy, but extermination, for I am determined the Governor's order shall be executed. As for your leaders," he continued, "do not once think--do not imagine for a moment--do not let it enter your mind that they will be delivered, or that you will see their faces again, for their fate is fixed--their die is cast--their doom is sealed."(5)

The Saints had no choice but to leave their homes and flee. They took their poor and their sick with them resolving to, "never desert [those] who are worthy, till they shall be out of the reach of the exterminating order ...."(6)

They eventually found refuge one hundred and fifty miles to the east of Far West. The good people of Quincy, Illinois gave aid to them and condemned the barbaric treatment they had been subjected to. "The governor of Missouri," they resolved in a meeting of the Democratic Association of Quincy, "[had] brought a lasting disgrace upon the state over which he presides."(7)

Meanwhile, with the aid of his captors, the Prophet Joseph Smith escaped Liberty Jail and, in the Spring of 1839, arrived in western Illinois. There, at a bend in the Mississippi river, the Prophet looked over a section of land that had been offered to him as a place for the Saints to call home. Because of the dampness and the mosquitoes that infested the area, few wanted to live there. Many became sick with malaria. Some had died.

But mosquitoes weren't the only challenge for those who lived there. One early visitor to the city wrote, "Oh, the mud! It seems bottomless. The soil is a black, sticky loam, and when your foot is once in, it is almost impossible to get it out."(8)

It was a place no one else would covet. The prophet himself said that the city, "was so unhealthful, very few could live there; but believing that it might become a healthful place by the blessing of heaven to the Saints, and no more eligible place presenting itself, I considered it wisdom to make an attempt to build up a city."(9)

The Prophet could see through the swamp, sickness, and obscurity. He could see what the industry of the Saints and the blessings of heaven could make of this place. The swamp could be drained and the city could become a healthy place. This could become a place of beauty and a place of refuge.

Not long after designating the area as the gathering place, Joseph renamed the city calling it Nauvoo. It was a Hebrew word that brought with it the meaning of, "a beautiful situation," and "the idea of rest."(10)

And the Saints arrived, many of them penniless, sick, and poor but armed with an unshaken and mighty faith in the Lord. Through their untiring efforts, they drained the swamp and began to build. Eventually, a city began to rise.

And it was beautiful.

And it was a place of rest for the weary Saints of God who had sacrificed so much for their convictions.

And it was a place blessed of the Father and saturated with manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

Soon, a university was formed and literature, languages, math, and sciences were taught. The state of Illinois granted Nauvoo it's own city charter and granted permission for it to create it's own militia, later known as the Nauvoo Legion.

Wards and stakes were organized, and the first Saints of the Restoration began to rear up a city that gave witness to their faith, commitment, and industry.

In a special epistle to the Saints abroad, The First Presidency wrote that they, "soon expect to see the thousands of Israel flocking to this region in obedience to the heavenly command."(11) And the Saints did come. By the twos and by the twenties. And in a very little time, this swampy village that had only recently consisted of a couple of dozen homes was transformed into a bustling city of 11,000 rivaling Chicago itself.

Not long after arriving in Nauvoo, Joseph began to speak of a great work that would unite the Saints under a common labor and prepare them for spiritual endowments that they could scarce imagine.

"The time has come when the great Jehovah would have a resting place on earth," the Twelve Apostles wrote to the inhabitants of the earth, "a habitation for His chosen where His law shall be revealed, and His servants be endowed from on high, to bring together the honest in heart from the four winds."(12)

"Let all my saints come from afar," the Lord spoke to Joseph in the 124th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. "Come ye, with all your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your antiquities . . . and with all your precious things of the earth; and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein."(13)

William Weeks was commissioned to draw up plans for the temple and began discussing the design of the temple with Joseph Smith. The Prophet had told Brother Weeks that circular windows would be placed above the first story windows. The architect disagreed insisting that "round windows in the broad side of a building were a violation of all the known rules of architecture." Joseph told Brother Weeks, "I wish you to carry out my designs. I have seen in vision the splendid appearance of that building illuminated, and will have it built according to the pattern shown me."(14)

The Saints were asked to give a tithe of their means and of their time. Every tenth day, the brethren cut, hauled, and put into place the huge limestone blocks and wooden timbers that would frame the temple. The sisters mended clothing, prepared meals, worked on the furnishings, and donated a penny a week to purchase glass and nails.

As work on the temple progressed, the Prophet wrote and spoke at length on the subject of baptism for the dead. He urged the Saints to hasten the effort to build the baptismal font. "There is a way to release the spirits of the dead," the Prophet instructed the Saints, "That is by the authority of the priesthood--by binding loosing on earth. . . . those Saints who neglect it, in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation."(15) By performing baptisms on behalf of their deceased ancestors, the Prophet said, the Saints could become Saviors on Mount Zion.

The brethren immediately went to work and completed the baptismal font in the basement of the temple and baptisms for the dead began soon after while the temple walls were still being built.

These were glorious days in the history of the Church and in the life of the Prophet, Joseph Smith. The spirit of Elijah rested upon the Saints. Hundreds of baptisms for the dead were performed, the Saints were united in their determination to erect a sacred temple. Contributions of time, money, and precious materials for the purpose of building flowed into Nauvoo.

Joseph Smith, in speaking of those days said, "Never since the foundation of the Church was laid, have we seen manifested a greater willingness to comply with the requisitions of Jehovah, a more ardent desire to do the will of God, more strenuous exertions used, or greater sacrifices made."(16)

Before the temple was completed, the Prophet Joseph felt a growing sense of urgency to bestow upon the Brethren of the Church all the keys, knowledge, and endowments that would be necessary for them should anything happen to him.

Parley P. Pratt records that the Prophet said, "I know not why; but for some reason I am constrained to hasten my preparations, and to confer upon the Twelve all the ordinances, keys, covenants, endowments, and sealing ordinances of the priesthood, and so set before them a pattern in all things pertaining to the sanctuary and the endowment therein."(17)

Once he had done so, Joseph said, "the Lord is about to lay the burden on your shoulders and let me rest awhile; and if they kill me the Kingdom of God will roll on, as I have now finished the work which was laid upon me, by committing to you all things for the building up of the kingdom according to the heavenly vision, and the pattern shown me from heaven."(18)

But as the walls of the temple rose, so did unrest. The citizens of Illinois became alarmed as the political power of the Saints increased. Additionally, several key brethren apostatized and turned against the faith betraying those to whom they had sworn loyalty.

A spirit of hatred, envy, and rage began to infect many in the area and, once again, the Saints of God found themselves the victims of prejudice and anger, turned out of their homes, robbed of their possessions, beaten and threatened.

It culminated on a day, late in June of the year 1844 as Joseph agreed to surrender himself at Carthage and stand trial against yet another malicious charge. It was early in the morning when the Prophet set off for Carthage with seventeen of the brethren. He stopped for a few moments as he passed the temple, still only one story high and, looking out over his beloved city, he said, "This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them."(19)

Joseph Smith knew that this would be the last time he would look upon his beloved city and his beloved people. "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter," he said, "but I am calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. . . . I shall die an innocent man, . . . and it shall be said of me, 'He was murdered in cold blood!'"(20)

At about 5:00 p.m. on the afternoon of June 27, 1844 an armed mob--painted black--of from 150 to 200 persons descended on Carthage jail.

"Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God!"(21)

Willard Richards, who had witnessed the martyrdom sent a message to Nauvoo. "Joseph and Hyrum are dead," he wrote. "Taylor wounded. . . . I am well. . . . The job was done in an instant."(22)

The bodies of Joseph and Hyrum were placed in pine coffins and brought to Nauvoo the next day. "As the solemn procession approached Nauvoo," one historian writes, "sorrowing Saints filed out of the city to meet them. For more than a mile beyond the Temple the dusty road was lined with the bereaved citizens of Nauvoo. As the two wagons appeared in sight and the rude funeral trappings confirmed the report that their beloved leaders were slain, they gave vent to their emotions in weeping and lamentations. As the cortege approached in the heat of the mid-day sun, the cries and lamentations of the sorrowing Saints arose and fell like the deafening din of a distant cataract. The procession moved slowly to the Mansion House, where the bodies were given into the care of their kindred who proceeded at once to prepare them for burial."(23)

Many believed that the death of Joseph Smith would mean an end to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many believed that with the death of their prophet, the Saints would scatter and abandon their faith.

Such was not the case. The Saints rallied around Brigham Young and they became even more determined to finish the temple as a monument to the martyrs.

While mobs were torching homes and threatening the Saints, the walls of the temple continued to rise. The Saints labored tirelessly to complete the temple. One member of the Church, wrote of this period, "We labored 10 hours in a day, day after day. . . . Sometimes [we had] a peck of corn meal or a few pounds of flour and . . . sometimes [we would be] entirely out of provisions and have to live on herbs boiled with any seasoning. . . . The reader may think that the . . . scarcity of provision was confined to my family. Not so. My family was as well off as the majority of my neighbors. I had seen those that cut stone by the year eat nothing but parched or browned corn for breakfast and take some in their pocket for dinner and go to work singing the songs of Zion. I mention this not to find fault or complain but to let my children know how the temple in Nauvoo was built and how their parents as well as hundreds of others suffered to lay a foundation on which they could build."(24)

But the faithful sacrifices of the members of the Church bore fruit and the white stone of the temple continued to rise layer upon layer. Finally, a year after Joseph and Hyrum had lain down their lives, the Saints raised their voices in the Hosanna Shout. At long last, the temple stood complete. The desire of the Prophet stood in glory, a testament to the fidelity and determination of the Saints of God to fulfill the vision of their martyred prophet.

In the month of December, the first endowments were given in the new building and continued until the Saints departed. By the time the Saints had abandoned their beloved city, 5,634 members of the Church had received their endowments in the House of the Lord.(25)

Once, after one of the endowment sessions, Brigham Young said that, "If Joseph Smith had been living, we should have already been in some other country, and we would go where we would be the old settlers, and build larger temples than this."(26)

As persecution intensified, it became apparent that the Church must leave or face increasing hardship and persecution. They began the task of making wagons and announced that they would leave the city in Spring. As news of this departure began to spread, the mobs rejoiced but they did not let up their harassment. In December, Governor Ford of Illinois sent a letter suggesting that the government might not permit the Saints to leave. Consequently, Brigham Young organized 1,000 members to leave early and, on an extremely cold day in February, 1846, the first wagons began the long, arduous journey to the Rocky Mountains.

Newel Knight, on the day he left Nauvoo made the following entry in his diary: "About noon we ascended the bluff here. We all halted and took a farewell view of our delightful city that we had seen and helped to rear even from its infancy. We also beheld the magnificent temple rearing its lofty tower towards the heavens which speaks volumes in honor of the wisdom and greatness of our martyred prophet."(27)

Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal: "I left Nauvoo for the last time, perhaps in this life. I looked upon the temple and City of Nauvoo as I retired from it and felt to ask the Lord to preserve it as a monument of the sacrifice of His Saints."(28)

Within months, the once thriving city became a ghost town. In 1846, Thomas L. Kane visited Nauvoo not long after the last members of the Church had left. He later described the loneliness and silence of the city. "The Mormons in Nauvoo . . .had been numbered the year before at over 20,000. Where were they?" he asked. "They had last been seen, carrying in mournful train their sick and wounded, halt and blind, to disappear behind the western horizon, pursuing the phantom of another home."(29)

It is beyond the scope of this address today to chronicle the suffering of that long trek from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. In truth, it may be beyond our ability to understand at all the sacrifice and grief of those faithful Saints who left behind them the city of their beloved Joseph and their temple which they had labored so desperately to build.

After the exodus of the members of the Church, the temple at Nauvoo lay vacant. Mobbers began inhabiting it and "they carried into it cots and beds, kegs of whisky, and supplies of food, making the temple the rendezvous of the ungodly. During the night they played cards and other games of chance, cursing and profaning as they hurled empty whisky bottles against the beautiful scenery recently painted on smooth plastered walls."(30)

Not long after, a bolt of lightning struck the belfry, scarring the holy edifice. Later, arsonists set it aflame. In 1850, a tornado knocked down one wall and weakened others. Finally, the temple was torn down, stone by stone, and used in other buildings. Joseph's temple--the temple of Nauvoo-- was no more.

Then, nearly a century and a half later, on April 4, 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley said in his final remarks at General Conference, "I feel impressed to announce that among all of the temples we are constructing, we plan to rebuild the Nauvoo temple."(31)

President Hinckley's grandfather, Ira N. Hinckley, was a young man in Nauvoo. His father, Bryant S. Hinckley, served as president of the Northern States Mission which included Nauvoo. In 1938, his father wrote that Nauvoo would rise again and, "annually, thousands . . . will visit it."(32)

In 1939, President Hinckley's father led a 100th anniversary celebration of the founding of Nauvoo. President Hinckley has said that his father "wished with all his heart to see the temple rebuilt and worked to that end."(33)

Many things had to come together in order for that to happen. The property needed to be acquired. In 1937, hearing that the property was going to be offered for sale, the Brethren sent Brother Wilford C. Wood to see if he couldn't purchase it for the Church. This was during the Great Depression and the First Presidency authorized him to spend no more than $1000. Brother Wood was distressed when, visiting with bank officials, he learned that the bidding for the property would start at $1000 and probably sell for $1500. Brother Wood felt impressed to ask, "Are you going to try to make us pay an exorbitant price for the blood of a martyred prophet, when you know this property rightfully belongs to the Mormon people?"

Brother Wood later said that he "felt the spirit of the Prophet, Joseph Smith in that room. [One of the officers] said, 'We will sell the lot for $900.'"

In 1948, a chance meeting between LDS missionaries and a descendant of William Weeks, the architect of the Nauvoo Temple, led to the acquiring of the plans for the original temple. After President Hinckley's announcement, members of the Church brought forward journals from that period that described the temple. A rare photograph taken in 1847 surfaced, providing researchers with additional materials.

The temple was planned to resemble Joseph's temple in every possible detail. Just as Joseph Smith presided over every detail of the original temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley oversaw the construction of the rebuilt temple. He was involved in every aspect of the temple down to the color of the carpets and murals on the walls.

President Hinckley said that when the time comes he wanted to meet the Prophet on the other side of the veil and say to him, "Brother Joseph, 'I tried to hold in remembrance your life, your ministry, and your death."

And he also spoke of meeting once again with his grandfather and father. "I hope I may meet my grandfather," President Hinckley said, "and say, 'I've walked where you walked on the streets of Nauvoo. I hope I can meet my father and say, 'I went to Nauvoo where you made such great effort to rebuild the temple and have fulfilled your dream and the dreams of thousands who lived here, who worked here."

My brothers and sisters, my heart is full as I think of the events of these last few years. My love for the Prophet and those early saints has multiplied as I reflect on the deprivations they experienced, and the sacrifices they made.

What those faithful members of the Church must have felt as they looked back upon that wonderful edifice for the final time, is almost beyond my ability to grasp.

What I felt as I heard the prophet of our day dedicate this new edifice--158 years to the exact hour that Joseph and Hyrum gave up their lives as a testament to their work--to the Lord and in memory of those wonderful Saints is beyond my ability to describe.

I wish to leave with you my love for those who have gone before and encourage you to learn of these events and people and develop within yourselves a love for these great souls of the early Church. As we understand the faith of our fathers and remember the depth of convictions that inspired them to give all that they had--their very lives if necessary--I trust that it will lift us as well. May the example of these great pioneers infuse us with new energy and new fervor.

Finally, I urge you to never give up hope. This student body and indeed the entire Church is filled with hope. Hope in the future. Hope in the promise of life. Hope that life will continue after death and hope that that life will be greater and grander than anything we can imagine. To be happy, we must hope. We must be able to look at the darkness that, at times, surrounds us and know that on the other side of grief, on the other side of despair, on the other side of desperation, there is hope.

There will be times in this life when we look back upon tragedy. We may look back across our own individual river at the remains of what we have loved and lost. More than likely, every one of us will have to pass through periods of trial and suffering.

As those early Saints could not see into the future and into the glory that would once again dawn upon that beloved city, so too, often we cannot see the light and promise the Lord has in store for us after the storms of life has passed.

We live in historic times, my beloved brethren and sisters. The rebuilding of the temple at Nauvoo and its rededication earlier this year was an event of significance on earth as in heaven.

I believe that on that day, many of those faithful, early Saints were with us in the city they so dearly loved. I believe that multitudes on earth as well as in heaven embraced and shed tears of joy. I believe that the hosannas we shouted to the glory of our Heavenly Father ascended to the heavens and were enjoined by the hosts of heaven.

Never forget that the Lord has His hand in all things. As long as you are faithful, prayerful, and strive to follow His prophet on earth, the Lord will never forget you or forsake you. As the Lord cares about His temple, He cares about you.

I know that the Savior lives and directs this work. During his life, Joseph Smith was close to the Savior; particularly during the months leading up to his martyrdom. The Prophet was taught every detail of ordinance work in the temple and he, in turn taught every detail to those who would take upon themselves the mantle of leadership after his death.

Joseph Smith was a great prophet of our Heavenly Father and we are led today by another great man--President Gordon B. Hinckley.

It is my prayer that you will make of your lives a temple worthy of habitation by the Holy Spirit and that you will muster the faith and courage to stand shoulder to shoulder with those great and faithful souls who, with the Prophet Joseph Smith, brought about the great day of Restoration, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

© 2002 Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.

1. Church News, June 29, 2002, p. 5
2. HC 3:175
3. (Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Heber C. Kimball, compiled by R. B. Thompson [Nauvoo, Ill.: Robinson and Smith, 1840], 64.)
4. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 244
5. Ibid. p. 177
6. B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:510
7. HC 3:271
8. Letter of Charlotte Haven, March 5, 1843, quoted in "In Their Own Words: Women and the Story of Nauvoo, Carol Cornwall Madsen
9. HC 3:375
10. HC 4:268
11. B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 4:338-339
12. HC, IV, p. 437
13. D&C 124:25-27
14. HC 6:196-7
15. HC 4:425-6
16. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 230
17. Parley P. Pratt, Millennial Star, 5:151
18. Ibid.
19. HC 6:554
20. D&C 135:4
21. D&C 135:1
22. HC 6:621-622
23. E. Cecil McGavin, Nauvoo the Beautiful [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972], 143.
24. Nauvoo Temple, a Story of Faith, Don F. Colvin, Covenant Communications, Inc., 2002, pp.59-60. Quoted in Church News, June 29, 2002, p.15
25. Church News, June 29,2002, p.20
26. E. Cecil McGavin, The Nauvoo Temple [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1962], 72.)
27. Church News, June 29, 2002, p.20
28. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 3:49
29. Among the Mormons, edited by William Mulder and A. Russell Mortenson, pp. 186-201; Quoted in Church News, June 29, 2002, p. 21
30. The Nauvoo Temple, E. Cecil McGavin, Preface
31. Ensign, May, 1999, p.89
32. Church News, June 29, 2002, p. 14
33. Church News, June 29, 2002, p.4